One of my favorite things about working in Creative Solutions is the constant interaction with the local community. The compound is right in the middle of Mangapwani Village. My afternoon bike ride is always punctuated with familiar faces–students, teachers, and acquaintances saying hello and sometimes even inviting me into their homes or workplaces.
Mr. Abdulla, the oldest of my students in the English night class, owns Kilimani Farm, a spice farm roughly a kilometer from where I live. He has been inviting me for the past few weeks, and I finally found time to swing by.
When in Zanzibar, a spice tour is virtually obligatory. Zanzibar was once the main producer of cloves and other spices for the rest of Africa. Although the islands play a more minor role in the world spice market today, spices still make up a large part of Zanzibar’s economy. Also, Zanzibari cuisine uses a lot of spices, with Arabs and Indians having left their indelible gastronomic mark.
Kilimani Farm is not as large as most spice farms, but it definitely has its charm. The path to the vegetable patch is lined by a canopy of trees entwined by vines of vanilla. Rainy season has started and most of the farmers are busy planting rice. But at its busiest, Kilimani grows aloe vera, aubergine, bell pepper, coconut, garlic, onion, passion fruit, spinach, watermelon, and zucchini, to name a few. All are grown organically. Some of the produce are brought to nearby markets and the rest are sold to local hotels.
Rahma, a former Creative Solutions student, toured me around the fruit and vegetable patches and taught me how to make organic fertilizer. What I found most interesting is how they make organic pesticide. A mixture of garlic, ginger, lime, and neem diluted in water and fermented is not only potent enough to keep away unwanted bugs but also powerful enough to burst through a plastic container if shaken.
The spice tour was given by the nephew of Mr. Abdulla who was very well versed on the uses of various plants, herbs, and spices. All spice, cinnamon, coffee, turmeric, vanilla, clove, aloe vera, anato (known locally in the Philippines as achuete), cardamom, passion fruit, henna tree, and the iodine tree were the stars of the show.
After the tour, Mr. Abdulla brought me home to meet his wife, two daughters, and niece. I was served cake and coconut juice fresh off the tree.
Mr. Abdulla, like all students in Creative Solutions, enrolled voluntarily. My students have different reasons for wanting to learn English–to keep up with lessons in school, to land a good job, to improve their language skills because their work requires interaction with tourists. Mr. Abdulla’s reasons for learning English were to keep abreast of latest farming techniques (most seminars are given by foreigners) and to teach his children English. He once told us that he was so happy to have picked up enough of the language to learn organic farming. He said he was probably the only farmer in the seminars who understood the foreign speakers.
Getting to know students outside the classroom is always an enlightening experience. In the case of Mr. Abdulla, a humbling and motivating one. I witnessed how learning English changed his life. His farm is productive and is soon to be a tourist attraction. It provides livelihood for Mr. Abdulla and other farmers, and has helped send his daughters to school. Mr. Abdulla and his family live simply but comfortably in a clean, spacious house, and there is always enough to eat. Also, Kilimani is the perfect model for organic farming. Knowing the health hazards of chemical farming on consumers and farmers, Mr. Abdulla hopes more farms go organic.
Mr. Abdulla has told me repeatedly after classes, “We congratulate you for your teaching. We talk about how good you are on our way home after class.” These words along with the progress the night students have made has kept me going all these weeks. Actually seeing the impact of teaching has made on the life of a student is motivation enough for me to work through my last month in Zanzibar.